A BRIEF ASSESSMENT OF NEOPAGAN THEOLOGY
(As offered by Cyprian at the Pan-Pagan Festival August, 1980
Physicists currently interpret physical creation, that is, the
universe as we know it, as having occurred within a time span o
about three minutes...the "Big Bang." Our physical universe is
thought to have been created with the explosion of a hyper-dense
particle which contained every bit of matter and energy that now
exists in the universe, including the matter which forms our
living bodies as we meet here today. This hyper-dense super
molecule also is thought to have been quite small. Dr. Leon
Friedman, director of the FermiLab near Chicago, has indicated it
may have ben no larger than a basket ball. Into this "ball" was
jammed all matter and all energy in our universe. It remained
there until some creative force, some creative urge, disrupted
the status of this primal "egg" and set into being the universe
as we know it. this event occurred with the so-called "Big
Bang," echoes of which have been detected by scientific
Our interpretation of the nature of this creative force or
creative urge is opposed to that of Judeo-Christianity in that we
perceive it as feminine...they see it as masculine. We hold that
pre-creation was feminine and this divergence in concept of first
Things, creation, forever separates our Neopagan world-view from
the Judeo-Christians. Briefly consider this, and you may want to
dwell upon it later, our Goddess, of Her own will, receives Her
consort, the God whom she created, and from Their union our
creation is ever revived and sustained. The Christian reviver
and sustainer, on the other hand, was conceived in a most
singular manner. The omnipotent God sent a neuter third party
messenger, and angel, to announce to a virgin that she was
pregnant with the child, Jesus. So there. Zap! What a
put-down! What revival and sustenance can we find in such a
sterile and asexual concept? Even masculine old Zeus copulated
with human females so at least somebody got some fun out of the
process! What we Neopagans find difficult to understand is why
Judeo-Christianity so vehemently turned its back on sex and not
just sex as a physical act but also sex as a gender,
specifically, sex as a feminine gender.
When we seek to deal with Creation we also must situate our place
as human beings within the totality of Creation. The orthodox
Judeo-Christian view gives humans a special place within
Creation; that is, that we are not part of general creation but a
special creation..."Man was created in the image of God"...and
the rest of creation is our plaything..."Yours is the earth and
everything on it." There is no need to expound upon our
rejection of these two fundamental points: of course we are not
created in any special way, any more than is a rock or a tree or
a raccoon or a galaxy, nor do we have dominion over anything. We
are a part of general creation along with every other particle of
matter in the universe.
I hope you grasp the vast difference this makes; it forever
separates us from the Judeo-Christian heritage and it s a gulf
that cannot be bridged. They must forever consider themselves
special and we must forever consider ourselves general and one
with creation. And it is given to us to look at a grain of sand
and in that grain see the sum total of creation and to see
ourselves as part of it and to gibe thanks for the creative force
of the Goddess and Her consort that sustains this creation.
With Chaos, as with so many other concepts, we must think on at
least two levels, the physical and the mythical, to come to any
sort of understanding of ourselves and what we really believe
about our place in creation. And it is this belief, this
understanding that is the ultimate determination of how we live
as human beings upon this beautiful Earth. That is what we
Neopagans are trying to do right now: learn to think differently
that Western man has thought in nearly two-thousand years in
order that we may live in a renewed relationship with creation.
It is an exciting adventure.
Before there was form, there was Chaos. We may well suppose
Chaos represents the disordered formlessness of matter and energy
in that initial "Big Bang" of the primordial egg in those first
three minutes when creation began. Mythologically, we see this
formlessness as before the Earth and Sky were separated, as
before the four elements, actually the four states of matter, had
coalesced into their separate forms. The myths speak darkly of
this time, of the births of the Titans, Cyclops and 100-handed
monsters, of a father who devours his own young...what better way
to represent Chaos!
We may assume, too, we have our own dark and personal counterpart
to this primal Chaos. Is it that black win that whips at the
raveled edge o sanity? I believe our ancestors felt far more
keenly than we can understand in this present age a constant fear
that what order they had managed to being to their lives, indeed,
what order they could see in creation around them, would suddenly
collapse and they would be plunged into chaos and madness. Greek
myths are redolent with stories of madness and possession. Even
great Heracles fell victim. It is no wonder, then, the gods of
chaos are said to have been chained beneath the Earth, castrated,
even devoured. But they still live, they still can escape.
And to some degree, escape they have from time to time. How else
can we account for the chaos of war, of a Hitler, a Napoleon, a
Modern psychology recognizes the chaotic madness that dwells in
all of us, ever ready to pounce and destroy. We may think of it
as a chained and raging primal demi-god, that psychologists
probably use more scientific language but when that chain snaps,
the result is the same; concentration camps, starvation, and on
and on. History is too full of such dismal lists. There is no
need to go on with a recitation or horrors.
But that does turn us at once to the next topic...the
consideration of evil.
Every religion, great and small, has had to wrestle with the
problem of evil because evil poses a fundamental question: how
can an all-omnipotent god who is all good permit evil to
exist?...and this is whether you interpret evil as some dark
malevolent Satan or whether you see it as death camps, war,
starvation or whatever.
Judeo-Christian theologians have wrestled with the problem of
evil since the very beginnings of the Judeo-Christian faith.
When boiled down, all the more reasonable answers go something
like this: The all-powerful God permits evil to exist so that
man, who is created in God's image, may have a choice between
good and evil. Ultimately, in the Last Days, evil will be
defeated and woe betide those who made the wrong choice! At
first glance this seems satisfactory but we Neopagans cannot
accept it because it sets man apart, as being different from the
rest of creation. This is absolutely contrary to what we
believe. We hold that man is VERY MUCH a natural part of
creation and we have no special place in it. We have no more
choice between good and evil than the stars or a bumblebee.
To the non-Pagan, then, who asks us to explain the existence of
evil we must give a two-fold reply: one, we are not special
creatures so we cannot truly know what evil is or if it even
exists; that which we perceive with our limited faculties as evil
may not be evil at all within the creative scheme. Two, our
three-fold Goddess is possessed of a dark visage, the Hag, which
we no more understand than we do the Lusting Nymph or the Loving
Mother-Creator. The Hag, the Old Woman who lays us out and
prepares our remains for the journey to the Land behind the North
Wind, is no "Satan" but an integral part of the creative process,
which we see as our three-fold Goddess.
If we are pressed hard enough, at the end we must say a Hitler, a
Vietnam war, a starving child are all part of the creative
process although we cannot pretend to know exactly how or why.
We must confess, too, that a statement we simply don't know and
cannot know the nature of evil is easily interpreted as a
cop-out. This is not rue in our case, though, because we do not
believe in special creation, that is, man is not a special
creature molded in the image of the Creator and sharing the
Creator's mind. No, man is simply a part of the overall creative
urge and therefore it is not given to us to know good and evil
anymore than it is to my two cat friends, Buzz and Fang.
But the problem of what we think of as evil is not resolved by
casting it aside with a simplistic explanation we are not given
to know what it is...although we Neo-Pagans, I think, pretty
generally agree this is a true statement. But just because it is
true does not put the question to rest. There is another
approach, however, and this approach to the problem makes a lot
of ultimate sense for us Neo-Pagans.
As stated earlier, the astro-physicists and we agree on the
probable pre-creation existence of a super-molecule or, in
mythical terms, a "world egg." This egg exploded to create the
universe, Creation, as we know it. If we accept this cosmology,
and it makes sense with our mythos, then we must also accept the
fact there is only a finite amount of matter and energy in
creation. There can be no "new" matter or energy, only matter
and energy that have been recycled. And were not only matter and
energy re-cycled and interchanged then we would run out of matter
and energy and creation would reach a state of status wherein
matter and energy were forever locked in cold sterility. Don't
we, in fact represent this constant play-interplay of matter and
energy as the reviving and renewing union of the Goddess and Her
Even more germane to our problem of evil; may that which we
perceive so dimly as evil actually be an essential part of this
re-cycling of matter/energy? If so, then we have the key example
of our Wiccan/Neopagan belief in BALANCE. That is, creative
forces must be balanced by destructive forces in order to
preserve the interplay between matter and energy...and we
represent this by the copulation of the Goddess and Her consort.
Perhaps we shouldn't fear our Goddess as Hag nor run in fear when
Pan tosses his horns and roars. Perhaps dimly we can understand
life and death, construction and destruction, the coming together
and the tearing apart, are necessary to sustain Creation.
The true nature of sin generally is misunderstood in Western
society and has been for many centuries...one is tempted to
suspect, by design. Sin does not involve right and wrong or good
and bad; these are moral and ethical concepts. Sin concerns
itself with man's deliberate and willful separation from God and
man's disobedience of the Law. The Law is that agreement
established between man and God: "I'll do this if you'll do
that." Although all the major religions and even the so-called
primitive religions deal with concepts which my be equated with
sin, only Christianity has developed sin to a fine art...indeed,
it may be the single pivotal idea which not only separates
Christianity from our Paganism but also from the rest of the
religious world. Obviously, the "sin and guilt" trip has paid
pretty good dividends within the Judeo-Christian heritage. But
these dividends have been garnered at a terrible, terrible price.
We Wiccans and Neopagans may be almost alone in rejecting the
concept of sin. Yet, we must reject it if we are to follow
logically our view of creation and our place in it. Put it
together this way; can a tree sin? no, it can only be a tree; can
your cat sin? no, he can only be a cat; can a human sin? no, he
can only be a human. In other words, none of us can be wither
more or less than our creation. Now, remember what we said about
general creation. If we accept this idea of general creation,
that we are no different from the other life around us, then we
are just as incapable of true sin as the tree or the cat, we can
only be what we are...human. To accept the idea of sin means you
must also accept the idea of special creation, that our human
race is somehow special and god-like and therefore is capable of
sin, and if you think so then you are in the wrong pew.
It seems almost blasphemous to me to think our Goddess would in
some way create us flawed and imperfect...creatures somehow able
to deny our own creation...did She create the tree imperfect, or
your cat? Then why should we be??? We are created as humans to
be humans and we should find joy in that fact, not sin.
This is the great freedom of Wicca and Neopaganism; that we are
free of sin and its guilt trip...that we are left with the
admonition that all joy, all mirth, all pleasure are our Goddess'
Fully stated, our Rede declares, "An' it harm none, do what thou
wilt shall be the whole of the Law."
Law, in this usage and as we've mentioned, refers to the
relationship between Man and god and this Rede, then, is in total
keeping with our contention that man is not special creation but
has just the same relationship to divinity as does any other part
If you have trouble dealing with this, then you are confusing sin
and ethics. And ethics is our next topic.
Unlike sin, which is a religious concept and which may be
considered as a constant from one age to another...that is,
willful separation from God must be the same for any time and
place...ethics involve a moral choice between what is deemed
right and wrong and with this we come to the realization that
which is right in one time and one society, is wrong in another.
Thus, the moral and ethical standards of, say, 18th century
England and 20th century America hardly are congruent despite a
But it is at exactly this point that we Wiccan/Neopagans have
introduced a novel idea: a moral and ethical constant:
"Eight words the wiccan Rede fulfill; An' it harm none, do what
Now, you and I are fully aware that outsiders first learning of
our Rede smirk behind their hands and conjure in their minds all
sorts of images or orgies and such. Well, I've been a Crafter
for thirty years and more, and I've yet to attend a Craft orgy.
so, if any of you are planning on throwing one, I wish you'd
invite me, and do hurry before I get too old to enjoy it!
All of which is by way of saying the Rede is widely
misunderstood. It simply sounds too much like an unbridled
license for hedonism. Of course it is not. But to seek its true
meaning we must first go back a few centuries.
the earliest known literary reference to our Rede, "Do what ye
will," appears in that marvelous Renaissance satire, Gargantua,
written by the French doctor-monk, Francios Rabelais, in 1534.
In Book I, a certain monk is very helpful to Gargantua in winning
a battle and Gargantua offers him several rich abbeys as reward
but the monk rebukes Gargantua, saying, "For how shall I be able
to rule over others that have not full power and command over
myself?" The monk then asks Gargantua to found an abbey like no
other and thus is established the Abbaye de Theleme and the rule
of the order is, "Fay ce que voudras"...Do what thou wilt. And
this is no libertine license but it is an essential and
straightforward clue to our understanding of the Rede.
The second clue to our Rede occurred during the summer of 1918
when Aleister Crowley painted on the Hudson River cliffs south of
Kingston, New York, this slogan:
EVERY MAN AND WOMAN IS A STAR!
DO WHAT THOU WILT
SHALL BE THE WHOLE OF THE LAW
Crowley, a man of great scholarship and magick, had recognized
the truth expressed in Rabelais and taken it a step further,
which Rabelais could not have dared. (Rabelais' printer was
burned at the stake for heresy.)
Now, keep in min the Law refers to the relationship established
between man and his creation/divinity. All religions have this
relationship spelled out as their Law and this Law usually is
employed to establish the ethical/moral relationship relationship
between men because it is also the ethical/moral relationship
between man and God. One, then, is used to justify the other.
Thus, there was the attempt to trap Jesus between the religious
Law and the moral law but he very handily fielded the question by
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy
soul, and all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it; thou shalt love thy neighbor as
thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the
And as Jesus recognized a new Law so Crowley saw in Rabelais'
"Fay ce que voudras" a further interpretation of the Law and he
expressed it in red paint on the Hudson River cliffs.
At this point is is possible, even tempting, to go off on some
very fine semantic nit-picking but that is not our purpose and it
would be counter-productive because we are simplistic
religionists and such goings on would be like trying to determine
how many elementals can dance on the point of an athame and it
would only serve to muddy some already confused thinking.
Instead, let me offer two very broad brush strokes based on the
clues already offered. If these are helpful, then I am more than
rewarded; if they are useful thinking tools, then I am twice
blessed! So here goes:
When Gargantua's helpful monk refused the offer of rich abbeys,
saying, "For how shall I be able to rule over others that have
not full power and command over myself?" he established the first
part of our understanding of the Rede. Unless and until such
time as you are able to exert your own will over yourself, "full
power and command," then our Rede, "Do as ye will," has very
little meaning because you can't truly will anything, and you are
no more than a plaything for every wind that blows. Hardly could
you have rule over others. Thus, the first part of the monk's
statement, "For how shall I be able to rule over others," has
within it the implicit meaning of the first part of our Rede,
"An' it harm none." what the monk is saying here is, "How can I
be responsible for someone else until I can be responsible for
myself?" It would be interesting to further press this
declaration because it stands in contradiction to some classical
Judeo-Christian concepts concerning man's responsibility to God.
And that, no doubt, is the reason Rabelais did not do it.
Remember what happened to his printer!
However, Crowley did press the issue another step. If
self-responsibility is the Law, then Man is responsible for
himself and God is responsible for Himself. So, the interplay
between God and Man suddenly is changed; god must be God and man
must be Man. And now we are back to where we said we were in our
brief discussion of sin...Man can only be man, he can be nothing
else. But he is responsible for that.
I hope all of us see in some way the very deep and even mystical
and certainly always constant ethical demands placed upon us by
our Rede. The Rede is demanding but it yields freedom from the
chronic guilt of the past twenty centuries. And it does not
leave us the luxury of a cop-out, be it God, Satan, Karma, Fate
or a white mule beside a red barn (the mule counts two points).
In this topic I use the term "World View" to mean how we, as
Neopagans, see the material creation around us. I know I already
have intimated a great deal about this in previous topics but
there is such a fundamental difference between us and the rest of
Western society that I believe we must deal with it more
directly. To do this, we will work from two premises:
1. That Christianity has taught, objectively and subjectively,
material creation somehow is "bad, sinful, evil and corruptive"
as opposed to the so-called pure spiritual creation. that the
Earth, a material creation, is only a way-station toward some
higher spiritual creation, be it heaven or hell, and that this
earthly creation eventually will be destroyed come the
Millenia/Last Judgement as it must be because it is "sinful" and
corruptive of spiritual man.
2. That Neopaganism teaches there is no division between
material and spiritual creation and neither can be considered
inherently good or bad, pure or corruptive. that the Earth is
our home, our only home, and is not some battle ground designed
to determine our future existence in a spiritual heaven or hell.
There are deep-rooted implications behind these two differing
points of view. In the first case, because the material creation
in which we live and are "tested" is somehow inferior and sinful
and is only a way-station en route to a "higher" spiritual
creation then we are free to despise and abuse this material
creation as we see fit. "Yours is the Earth and everything in
it." Love Canal, then, has a perfectly sound and reasonable
Judeo-Christian premise. However, in the second case, if we, as
part of general creation, abuse our Earth, we are abusing
ourselves, exactly as Love Canal had demonstrated. And we must
at the end finally admit the ecological frustration and fury of
this age is because the whimpering ecologists and the Sierra Club
have no theology to guide them...only guilt. The Judeo-Christian
trip all over again. I'm sure we stand in a much better
But don't make the mistake of thinking planetary plunder is an
invention of the 20th Century and its technology...far from it.
Man has abused his Earth since pre-historic times. Primitive
farming and herding practices are among the most destructive
ecological force know. The stripping of the Mediterranean Basin
is ample proof. So is the collapse of the one great Mayan
civilization and the fact that once heavily forested Scotland was
forced to import timber for the Baltic as early as the Middle
Ages. Indeed, we might well argue the concept of a "sinful"
material creation with its implicit license to ravage had to be
invented to excuse the earthly pillage that had been going on for
several thousand years.
I sometimes refer to reincarnation as "the secret belief" because
any number of Christians have admitted to me they believe in
reincarnation as opposed to orthodox Christian teaching or had
had experiences which can only be interpreted as a reincarnitave
experience. whether these people actually understand what
reincarnation really is may be open to question.
At the outset, then, let's establish the very essential
difference between reincarnation and resurrection, as taught in
Christian doctrine. Resurrection means at some future time, the
Millenia, the Last Judgement, etc. you will be pulled from the
grave intact in your present body and you will be in full
awareness of yourself and your previous earthly life; that is,
you will retain your personal identity. thus, with your present
body and personal identity you may be meaningfully rewarded in
Heaven or amply punished in Hell. Heaven and Hell have no
meaning and no promise or threat unless these conditions of body
and identity are met. What good would it be to punish or reward
a disembodied spirit with no knowledge of what it was being
praised or punished for?
Our concept of reincarnation does not meet either of these
criteria. Reincarnation, unlike resurrection, does not
automatically imply ultimate survival of the physical body and
retention of personal identity. So, any discussion of a Pagan
heaven or hell is simply meaningless.
What reincarnation says is survival of life-energy and
life-energy has no one body and no one identity. One of the best
examples to illustrate this concept of reincarnation is the later
stage of the Osiris-Horus myth. In this myth, Osiris is killed
by Seth but he is reincarnated as the child Horus and, in various
forms, the myth repeats. There is no indication Horus ever
remembers himself as Osiris. thus it is with us, sometimes we
have a sort of "leakage" across this reincarnation insulator and,
with some exceptions, the best we ever get are only
picture-postcard glimpses of our previous life-energies.
Eschatology is only a fancy word for the study of "last
things"...that is, death, the Last Judgement, and so forth. For
us, eschatology must have an entirely different meaning because
we really have no "last things." We are involved in cycles, not
beginnings and endings. As Pagans we must view the entire
continuum of matter, energy, life force and even time itself as
circular. We do not see these things as a piece of string with a
beginning and an ending but as that same piece of string tied
together to form a circle...our Circle...a repeating cyclical
Although definitive physical proof still is lacking, there is a
growing belief among some astronomers and astro-physicists that
the expanding galaxies of our creation will one day stop their
head-long flight and by mutual gravitation slowly and then faster
and faster plunge back together again to form a new primal
super-molecule world egg. From there, it is only reasonable to
assume the creative urge of our Goddess once more will explode
this primordial egg to begin a fresh creation.
And, thus, we have come full circle.
Next: Pagan Musings (Tony Kelly, Selene Community, Wales,1970)